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Ungendering, revivalism and attention wealth are three of the big trends you need to plan for – this year and down the road.

That comes from marketing consultant Rohit Bhargava, who has been carefully cataloguing what he calls “non-obvious trends” for the past decade, compulsively clipping unusual items he sees in his eclectic reading and trying to link them into discernable trends that might otherwise be missed. It’s detective work, trying to go beyond what we are seeing – the obvious trends – to a deeper understanding of where things are heading.

He has decided to hang up his curator’s hat and so his latest list of longer-term trends – in the book Non Obvious Megatrends – is worth picking through for some of the ones businesses must adapt to in coming years.

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Ungendering is the fact traditional gender divisions and labels are getting replaced with a more fluid understanding of gender identity, forcing a re-evaluation of how we see employees, customers, brands and one another. We’re in a new era of personal pronoun preference, people trying to avoid choosing gender, and what he calls muddled masculinity. “Even as other parts of our culture face a reckoning over gender roles and inequality at work, many men continue to feel the same pressures of society to adhere to a traditional but outdated ideal of what it means to be a man,” Mr. Bhargava writes.

Here are three of his tips:

  • Remove unnecessary gendering: As people are rediscovering what role gender identity plays in the experiences they love, the products and services that will succeed are inclusive and empathetic. Look closely at how your current products are packaged and marketed, and consider how to ungender them.
  • Encourage non-toxic masculinity: When men or boys express curiosity or passion for exploring traditionally feminine things, encourage them rather than offering quick, negative judgments. In your advertising, consider using non-conforming images and messaging when portraying men, helping them to feel it’s acceptable to love what they love and share emotions more openly.
  • Have more gender empathy: He notes that “shifting one’s thinking to consider gender as being on a spectrum rather than a binary is not easy. Yet leaders, teachers, and politicians who do will become far more effective because they will earn the respect and loyalty of those who previously were considered outcasts and finally feel understood.”

If ungendering takes us into an uncertain future, revivalism takes us back to the comfortable past. Overwhelmed by technology and a sense that life is now too complex and shallow, people are seeking out simpler experiences that offer a sense of nostalgia and remind them of more trustworthy time. Mr. Bhargava first cottoned on to this a few years ago with what he called strategic downgrading, as people opted for simpler technology – in 2017 sales of smartphone climbed by 2 per cent while those of simple dumbphones without apps jumped 5 per cent. But it’s broader than that. Kodak relaunched its Super 8 cameras. Barcades – retro arcades serving alcohol and food – are back. Artisan crafts are hot. His advice:

Whenever possible, share your company’s history, capturing your employees’ stories about working at the company, to tap into this strand of consumer engagement.

Offer a classic mode: Give consumers a chance to downgrade the functionality of your product or to get a version that looks like the original. He notes Microsoft will offer a classic view when it launches a new operating system.

Make your experiences collectible: People like to collect things. Consider the aspects of your customer experiences that might be collectible in print.

Attention wealth captures the fact our attention is our most valuable resource, leading people to be skeptical of those who manipulate us to get it. Instead people seek out those who communicate in more authentic ways. Here you should:

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Beware of spectacle backlash: To get attention, companies are becoming more dramatic in their marketing. And yes, some drama will be needed but be careful to not erode your credibility. “Getting someone to look up for a second is not the same as truly engaging their attention,” Mr. Bhargava warns.

Make the truth more transparent: Find the information sources your customers are most likely to trust and connect with those. Also, seek out peer-to-peer validation.

Share your backstory: Let customers know why and how you do what you do.

Sometimes Mr. Bhargava’s trends can actually seem obvious. But he does dig deeper, bringing multiple strands together and putting them in context. And if those trends don’t surprise you, that should probably increase your urgency to grapple with them. They are real. They are likely to continue. And he offers some sensible ways to come out ahead.


Another favourite futurist, Toronto-based Jim Carroll, placed himself briefly in 2030 and wrote about what had changed since 2020. Here’s three of his 20 trends:

  • Retail: While we used to go to stores to get the stuff that we need, in 2030 we find the majority of stuff comes through a wide variety of automated, intelligent last-mile delivery technologies such as delivery bots and automated drones. Most homes now have drone pads on their driveways and robotic storage lockers to safeguard the product after delivery.
  • Construction: We used to send people and materials to a site for a building to be assembled. In 2030, we generally assemble the building off site with robotic technology and 3-D printing technologies, and then take it for final quick assembly to the site.
  • Food: We used to eat the same food that everyone else ate. Now we eat food grown specifically for our particular DNA, and matched to our particular metabolic profile, based upon real-time insight from monitoring technology built into our smartphone and clothing.

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